By Scott Eaton
On March 13, 2012, Governor General David Johnston issued royal assent to Bill C-10 (or, the Safe Streets and Communities Act). On July 24, 2012, Statistics Canada reported that Canada's crime rate in 2011 was down six per cent from 2010. Vic Toews, federal minister of Public Safety, tweeted that this was proof of the effectiveness of the Conservatives' "tough on crime" policy. Mr. Toews, however, has received criticism for this remark. If C-10 is the meat of this Conservative policy, and it was passed in 2012, how could it have had any effect on the 2011 crime rate? Moreover, as the Telegram newspaper (amongst others) has noted, the crime rate has been steadily decreasing since 1991; the Conservative Party of Canada has been in power for only six years (or less than 30 per cent of this time).
What amendments did C-10 actually make? Major changes were made to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). It introduces a variety of mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, importing/exporting drugs and producing drugs. Notably, it imposes a minimum sentence of two years for trafficking in or near a school, or in a public place where minors typically frequent. This seems like a sound, protective policy; however, in dealing with 18-year-old first offenders, it would be prudent for judges to have flexibility in sentencing. This said, sections 10(4) and 10(5) are frequently overlooked; they collectively allow an offender to complete a drug treatment program in lieu of the minimum sentence, which under the correct circumstances, could be quite helpful. Substantively, however, the policy is confused: if the maximum sentence for most offences under the CDSA is life imprisonment, why remove the judge's discretion? Is this part of Parliament's role? Moreover, if the goal is to be "tough on crime", why is the maximum sentence for producing cannabis (the root of drug trafficking) after the amendments, only a 14-year jail term?
When considering C-10, House of Commons debates are an interesting and useful read. Sean Casey (Liberal MP, Charlottetown) stated that the bill might otherwise have been called "an act to provide a Conservative comprehensive affordable housing strategy." Comedy aside, Mr. Casey made some astute observations. He said, C-10, "creates an illusion that crime is out of control and there is mass insurrection in the streets." In reality, he asserts, the Conservatives are ignoring statistics; the crime rate is going down, and has been doing so despite the Conservatives' policy. Why alter an already working system? Without a rebuttal, Randy Hoback (Conservative MP, Prince Albert) shouted that by opposing C-10, Liberals were in "great support of criminals."
As mentioned by one NDP MP, C-10 is guilty of forgetting that there are "actual people appearing before judges and not pieces of paper." It is centred on an illusion that stiffer punishment creates obedience. However, as noted by the Opposition, deterrence is fostered by an increased likelihood of being caught. If deterrence is the goal, then increased expenditures on crime enforcement would prove more fruitful.
It is too early to determine the effects of C-10, but let us hope that they are not too damaging.
Scott Eaton is an honours history student at Memorial. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.